What a Resume is Not

Does your résumé effectively market your skills and talents? Think about your presentation from the viewpoint of the hiring manager or recruiter. By advertising your relevant qualifications that make you the perfect candidate for the job, your resume is a marketing tool to help you get an interview, not a tool to complain about past failures.

The NOTs of Resume Writing

When I lecture on resume writing and Internet job searching, I have a PowerPoint slide I show that makes it clear what a resume IS and what it is NOT. Most people nod their heads knowingly when I mention things like:

A resume is:

  1. a tool to get you an interview,
  2. your personal advertisement, and
  3. a way to leave a lasting impression, etc.

These statements still might surprise a few people, but most of the job seekers I work with have already accepted this premise and are working to empower their resumes to speak for them in all situations.

Yet when I mention the NOTs of resume writing, I often get the furrowed brow, unblinking eyes, or the gaping mouth effect from some audience members. It seems that people do not realize that the resume is…

NOT your personal expression of frustration

I have read more than one resume where there was either specific text that was demeaning of a prior manager or the tone of the text was not complimentary of a prior work situation. I am going to quote Thumper here…"If you cannot say something nice, do not say nothing at all!" Do not even hint at it. The recruiters and hiring managers want to read about your talents and expertise, not about the office politics at your prior job.

NOT a confessional booth of past mistakes or blunders

The recruiter is not your priest and your resume is not a confessional booth. We all screw up on occasions, but you do not need to tell me about it in your resume (or the interview). In fact, in most cases, you never need to mention your mistakes and failures again to anyone during your job search. Keep the tone of your resume upbeat, positive, and enthusiastic. If you really think you need to express your problems, share them with a chaplain, a psychiatrist, or your mother…not your resume.

NOT just a list of tasks or job descriptions (boring!)

This is probably the biggest mistake of all. The difference between a resume success statement and a job task description is simple: a job description tells me what and maybe where/when, but the resume should expand this to why, how well, with what challenges, and who it benefited. Check out my posting on STAR statements for more specifics and remember…recruiters do not post job resumes, so you should not write job descriptions.

NOT a compilation of irrelevancies regarding your prior career paths

Do not get confused between reflection and relevance. A resume should be written in a forward-looking approach. If your new career goal is not 100% identical to your prior jobs, then eliminate things that are not relevant. Just because you earned an award for Salesman of the Month at Macy's furniture department, it is not relevant if you are trying to get a job as a ditch digger, so do not list it. Do not confuse the recruiter with reflective items from your prior jobs if they are not relevant to your target job.

NOT a journal of your professional history over your entire life

Thirty-seven years. That is how far back this guy's resume went. Back to when he was a mail clerk in a law firm in the 1970s…and today he is trying to get a job as a bank Vice President. First, I do not need to know about every job you ever did. It detracts from your current story and the image you are trying to present. Second, nothing existed before the Web was created. What I mean by that is, it is very unlikely that anyone would need to know about what you did over 15–20 years ago. And if it was done prior to relatively modern technology (PCs, Internet, cell phones, texting, etc.), it probably dates you. It is better to just let them think you might possibly be an old geezer rather than for your resume to confirm it.

NOT a repository of non-work related items (remember the Hobby section?)

In years gone by, it was common to list hobbies and other non-work related activities, such as church roles, soccer mom tasks, and your favorite baked goods. If you do list one of these, it needs to be relevant to your current job pursuit. For example, if you are applying for a sales position, the fact that you are active in Toastmasters could be beneficial, but that you collect political campaign buttons does not improve my opinion of you…in fact it might lessen my opinion if you get me too far off-track.

NOT a formal application document

No, you do not need to list your formal name, you do not need to list every job you have done over the last several years (but watch for gaps), you do not need to identify references or provide salaries, and you do not need to list every manager you ever worked for. The resume is a marketing document that sells you. For example, consider that in many cases your formal title with your prior company may not be exactly descriptive. I am an Associate, but I list IT Project Manager as my title on my resume because it is reflective of my role and it is a title a recruiter can recognize. (Oh…on the actual job application you will need to provide the formal details, but a resume is not an application.)

NOT misleading or false or bragging

There is a tendency to stretch the truth on resumes. To say you led a project is valid even if you co-led. But to say you led when you just performed assigned tasks is misleading or even false. Your desire to make yourself more important can sometimes cross the line somewhere between lying and bragging. So take this simple test…would your boss or one of your prior co-workers disagree with how you wrote your resume?

NOT ever finished

In the days prior to word processing software and ink-jet/laser printers, a resume was written once and it was declared as finished. After which you printed it on off-white, heavy-bond paper and mailed it to the Whom-it-May-Concern people in response to jobs advertised in a weekend newspaper. Now, resumes are living documents on your computer that you can revise for possibly every different job you apply Keep the resume fresh. If it is not generating calls or emails, then change it. When you get that next job, update it. When you change roles within your current job, revise it. If it looks like the same one you wrote five years ago, refresh it.

Bottom Line: It is NOT good to let a poor resume get your career search off-track. NOT everything you ever did in your career deserves a place on your resume. When you think a role or job you performed does NOT improve your chance for getting a job, then leave it off. If you NOTice that you have misleading statements in your resume, reword them. And remember that a resume needs to be relevant to your job search – it is NOT a reflective document, but rather a forward looking advertisement of your skills and talents.

Source: C.J. Trayser, https://mrl8nite.com/2010/06/12/the-nots-of-resume-writing/
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License.

Last modified: Tuesday, August 18, 2020, 12:42 PM